The Alipay ‘Future Hospital’ program marked a milestone this week by opening in its 20th province, Shaanxi, according to parent company Ant Financial. The program is now in use at a total of 63 hospitals, and the company claims up to 5 million individual patients currently use the service.

The program was launched in May last year, and aims to act as a liaison between consumers and hospitals on a wide scale. Patients can link their Alipay account to the hospital’s service, allowing them to register online, pick up medical reports and of course pay using their Alipay wallet. 

Chinese hospitals are notoriously inefficient when it comes to queues and wait times, especially in a second or third tier city like Xi’an where the latest partner hospital, Xi’an Jiaotong University Hospital, is based. According to the company, the future hospital program is designed to combat efficiency issues that plague the hospitals. Currently the program is only in place where hospitals are able to fund it themselves. 

Ant Financial and other Alibaba affiliates have extended into a diverse range of public consumer services over the past 18 months. In September last year, the payment arm was granted approval from Chinese authorities to establish a privately owned bank. Earlier this month Alibaba also announced a partnership with one of China’s most prestigious Universities, Peking University, to launch open online courses.

While Alibaba (as well as competing private tech giants) seem to be patching up holes in public services with positive e-commerce solutions, it does raise concerns about private data collection in China, where public services have been relatively slow to digitize their databases.

The ‘Future Hospital’ program goals include the ability to “check medical reports online, and see relevant treatment information.” This could represent one of the first cross-hospital consolidated patient databases in many Chinese provinces. The private ownership of the database in concerning considering that there are still high levels of discrimination against disabled and mentally ill people in China.

Despite this, Chinese hospital services are in dire need of digital services to curb issues in efficiency. Currently, controlled medications require a national ID or a passport, though many of these records are not digitized.

The Future Hospitals program is running in most of China’s largest cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Zhejiang. Next month the program will celebrate its anniversary, however there has not yet been feedback on the program from the hospitals, other than the adoption rate. The move to Xi’an marks the program’s planned expansion into China’s north west region.

In other Alibaba health news, Alibaba Group announced last week that it has agreed to transfer the operations of Tmall online pharmacy business to Alibaba Health Information Technology.

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Cate Cadell

Cate is a tech writer. She worked as a journalist in Australia, Mongolia and Myanmar. You can reach her (in Chinese or English) at: @catecadell or

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